Saturday, February 27, 2016

WHIP Reunion

I spent a very delightful afternoon yesterday reconnecting with an old colleague - a fellow intern from The White House days. 

Riane worked in The First Lady's Office with me one summer in undergrad. She's now in law school. Her uni has a study abroad programme at Oxford, so she's found herself on this side of the Pond for one term studying with British professors and nipping to Paris on weekends. 

Yesterday, Riane's programme had a day of meetings in London with the US Embassy and British Bar Council. Cue the evening ramblings about London showing off my city!

It was great to chat with her, and a nice break in between frantically finishing up Kuwait projects and prepping for Lebanon. I leave again on Tuesday - and can't quite claim to be ready yet! Let's hear it for weekend calm and prep time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Exceptional DESiGN

I returned safely to London, only to frantically do a quick suitcase swap and laundry load in order to head to Norfolk. 

I taught on a residential programme at the beautiful Holt Hall Friday-Sunday, staying at the old manor a few days before and after for planning and evaluation. 

We brought a load of ecologists as well as a poet, musician, artist, and engineer together and had them lead teams of students in learning about local environmental issues. Student groups wrote a piece of scientific poetry, transformed it into tactile art, and then used their design and teamwork skills for an engineering race using sustainable sources. It was a riot of a weekend. I highly encourage you to check out the photography - as well as the hysterical videos the students produced teaching abouty energy issues:

I am now back in London and will be running around trying to grab catch-up coffees with as many people as possible before heading out to Beirut on Tuesday for my last major stretch of fieldwork. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

That's a wrap!

Well. That six weeks has certainly flown by!

Good-bye for now, Kuwait. Thank you for a fabulous trip. 

I've already got my next visit planned - the Dive Team will be hosting a youth engagement and volunteerism summit in November; I'll likely come back for that. 

In the meantime, members of the Team will come present with me at the Royal Geographical Society conference in London in August and the Birmingham Dive Show in October! So I won't have to go too long without my favourite Kuwaitis...with the exception of these adorable young ones, who I likely won't see till November:

But until next time, Kuwait - ma'asalameh! Peace be with you and us all. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

KDT Operation 7: HUBS

My host family's children go to Hayat Universal Bilingual School, a school for all ages from kindergarten on up to just before university. HUBS blends North American curriculum  and pedagogy with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education curriculum for Arabic, Islamic Studies and Social Studies. One of their founders, Dr Ibrahim Al-Khulaifi, studied for his master's at Michigan State University!

Thursday morning, I had the chance to meet Principal Kheireya Al Wadaani and Co-Founder Raja Al-Saleh. I presented each of them with a book and left additional copies for the school library and Dr Ibrahim. Yousif AlFadhel, the youngest diver ever licensed in Kuwait and Waleed's son, is in Year 11. I bragged about him a bit, pointing his principal to his interview in the book. Ms Al-Saleh, Yousif's mum, and I then paid a visit to his class as a surprise. After our visit, Yousif was apparently besieged with questions about his work with the Dive Team.

The timing of our visit was a happy one - it turns out the school held a Sports Day today to celebrate students' accomplishments and Liberation Day. Principal Al Wadaani mentioned that they were planning to do a beach clean-up as part of the morning's fesitivities. I quickly volunteered the Dive Team's mobile truck unit.

And so this morning found me at Kuwait's Marina Crescent, giving a lecture in English on the beach to 100+ Kuwaiti schoolboys about the need for marine conservation. They spent 20 minutes picking up waste and helped with the release of fish to help boost stocks.

It was great to get a glimpse into the Kuwaiti educational system, and a lot of fun to spend the morning with the AlFadhel boys and their friends.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

KDT Operation 6: Underwater Cleanup

This morning's Kuwaiti adventure involved practicing my diving techniques! The Dive Team was asked by the owner of Al-Kout Marina to clean the area from a large pile-up of rubbish (sadly, it was mostly disposable cups from the nearby Starbucks - use less plastic, people! And make sure it gets disposed of properly when you do use it).

It's a tricky operation, since every time you touch the bottom or pick something up, you release a giant cloud of particulates that seriously messes with visibility.

What you see in the video is a very clean part we filmed so we could actually capture something on camera. Closer to shore in the marina's rocks were giant piles of plastics that we scooped up using a similar method to what is in the video.

I don't think I will ever be able to dive recreationally 'just for fun' after learning all of this and figuring out how to do clean-up work instead!!! You still get to see plenty of fun fish doing this kind of diving.

Monday, February 8, 2016

KDT Operation 5: Kayak Race

KUWAIT, Feb 7 (KUNA) -- Kuwait Dive Team launched Sunday a competition for environment-friendly boat racing at Umm Al-Gaz Island on the occasion of the country's celebrations of the National and Liberation Days. The competition aims to encourage people to do sports, bring awareness towards protecting the environment and shed light on the artificial island which is one of the most prominent marine destinations in the country, head of the team Waleed Al-Fadhil told KUNA. The competition has been setup in two phases; the first is for kayaks rowing boats and the second for boards rowing. The starting point of the race is from the Sharq beach, moving on to Umm Al-Gaz Island, he said. The competition was in cooperation with Kuwait Kayak Club, Kuwait Fire Service Directorate, Al-Shuwaikh Port Center, General Administration of the Coast Guards and Platinum Health Club. For his part, head of Kayak Club Bashar Al-Hunaidi said the competition was a wonderful and effective, adding that he hoped to spread this kind of environment-friendly sport. The island, built 100 years ago, is situated in front of Souq Sharq and north west of Kuwait Towers. The island has a five-meter high Kuwaiti flag post that people can see from the beach.

My less official version: I visited Umm Al-Gaz on my first trip to Kuwait. It's an abandoned oil industrial island quite close the shore that causes environmental issues, as it isn't well maintained. The Dive Team flies the Kuwaiti flag on it to draw attention, and is trying to have it made into a monument commemorating Kuwait's maritime history and calling for environmental action.

This was the first official collaboration with the Kayak4Kuwait sports group. We had a lot of fun. I was stationed on Umm Al-Gaz during the race itself, where I attempted to capture a few shots.

I also grabbed a quick shot thanking the Coast Guard and Marine Fire Department for being on hand in case of safety concerns:

And then had to help heft the safety buoys.

 Probably the best part of the day, though, was taking the kids for their first kayak rides after all the formal festivites had concluded. Total naturals, of course!


A Happy Liberation Day to Kuwait! The country celebrates throughout all of February to commemorate its independence from Britain on 25 February 1961 (it had been a protectorate of the Empire since 1899)...and its liberation from Iraq on 26 February 1991 (after the 1990 Invasion and subsequent Gulf War).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

KDT Operation 4: Kuwait Yacht Show

Sunday 31 January kicked off the 2016 Kuwait Yacht Show. A bit of a misleading name. Certainly there are yachts! But it's also an exhibition for all Gulf-relevant marine sports.
The event took place near Marina Waves, a lovely spot to spend some time with interesting architecture right on the coastline. That in and of itself made attendance worthwhile.


The Kuwait Dive Team regularly exhibits at any and all expos that are related to them or any of their projects. And so there we were, a variety of educational and publicity materials in hand!

Sunday evening, one of the coordinators of the Beach Clean-Up efforts and I staffed the KDT Booth for the Show's opening VIP Night. We had a good evening sharing stories of the Team, answering questions from divers and non-divers alike, and greeting kids with our marine life colouring books and stickers.

The evening brought with it the greatest concentration of non-Kuwaitis I've ever seen in the country. It was very strange to speak with Americans and Europeans after so much time almost entirely in the exclusive company of Gulf natives. My presence helped to boost some of the attendance at the booth I think, though, as people stopped by to figure out what the random girl was doing. ;)

After our shift ended, I had the chance to visit a friend's beautiful 3-bedroom vessel. The owner has just started a 'Safe Sailing' organisation in Kuwait, training seafarers in marine safety and encouraging more sailers in the country. Waleed and I have been helping them to hone their mission and vision, and the group made their first major public appearance at the Show. It was great to meet them in person and, of course, a riot to play on the boat a little bit. Plus there was cake!